West Side school

West Side Elementary School students recently completed their first trimester of the 2020-21 school year and progress reports are set to be sent out next week on Nov. 19 over Thanksgiving break.

West Side School Principal and West Side Union School District Superintendent Kris Menlove said she’s happy to report that they are not seeing the slip in grading that is occurring at the junior high and high school level in Healdsburg and across Sonoma County.

“I attest that to a couple of things. First off, we are a small school, small but mighty, so I think that has been really helpful that we have a small, but connected school. We also meet on a regular basis to talk about how students are doing,” Menlove said.

Menlove added that she thinks the school’s strong attendance plays a positive role with how students are doing academically.

“One of the state requirements is tracking attendance.” Menlove said. “Fortunately, there aren’t many students who miss out on lessons.”

In both the county and the state junior high and high schools have seen dwindling grades throughout COVID-19 and distance learning.

39% of all Healdsburg High School students are failing at least one class and 37% of Sonoma County secondary students have an F grade according to Healdsburg and county statistics.

Student progress reports not only report academic progress but they also provide an emotional and mental health update as well.

“We are definitely making sure that we report out how kids are doing academically, but we also recognize that this is a really challenging time and we need to support kids emotionally,” Menlove said. “And for West Side, that’s actually one of the school board’s goals for this year is to ensure that we have a positive learning environment that promotes the social and emotional health of students. We are hyper focused that we are not only supporting our kids, but that we’re also supporting our parents because they are being put in a situation that is obviously new to them and ever changing.”  

With that in mind, Menlove said frequent parent communication and outreach has been key throughout the new frontier of distance learning.

“One of the things that I think is so great about what we do here, is that we are in constant communication. It sounds cliche that we have an open door policy, but it is actually really true. There isn’t an email or a phone call that doesn’t get our attention and our parents know that they can reach out to us and we also contact parents when we have a concern,” she said.

When asked if there have been any silver linings in distance learning Menlove pointed to a few things such as virtual office hours.

Menlove said the private teacher online office hours has also been helpful for students who previously might have felt timid asking a question in front of all their peers. “That really does lend itself to certain learners,” she said.

Additionally, some parents have said they’ve enjoyed seeing how their child learns while others have noticed that students that tend to be more timid are a bit more engaging and communicative.

Enrichments programs like art and gardening have also been relatively easy to do at home and teachers have created fun and unique projects for students.

One recent art project had students draw out their stress and both students and parents reported that it was fun and calming.

“I think we still have that, that kind of human side (to teaching). So much of that (art and garden) is still very personable… and we’re Zooming frequently throughout the day and checking in on families,” Menlove said.

Distance learning has also changed the fact that each teacher has been doing their own English Language development (ELD) with English learner students instead of all English learners spending time with one designated ELD teacher.

“We’ve definitely seen a plus as well when it comes to our English learners. Our designated ELD is now being done by each classroom teacher, which has really allowed them to get a stronger window to look at what our English Language learners need,” Menlove said.

She said now that they are using that ELD method they want to see how they can continue with the method once in-person learning resumes.

And while distance learning has certainly presented challenges such as computer and internet connectivity, Menlove said it is good to look at the silver linings in any situation.

Next week we’ll take a look at how other area elementary schools are doing as we get to the halfway point of the school year.

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